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Israeli Helicopters Fire on Targets in Ramallah; CIA Chief Tenet Meets With Arafat in Gaza

Aired October 12, 2000 - 9:54 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To the Middle East now. A lot of information that we're getting right now is still developing at this time, about another hour and 10 minutes of sunlight there in the Middle East.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, White House very concerned about this situation, trying to do everything it possibly can to remain engaged so that the situation does not escalate. We do understand that President Clinton telephoned Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat, again from his home in Chappaqua, New York. The president voicing his concern about the incident involving those two Israeli soldiers who were killed in the West Bank. Mr. Clinton asking Chairman Arafat specific questions about what happened and how it happened, and also calling on the Palestinian leader to do everything he possibly can to stop the violence, to restore calm, and to have Palestinian security forces coordinate and work closely with Israeli security forces.

We also understand Mr. Clinton is expected to telephone Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. And again, the White House saying they are very concerned, very concerned, trying to do everything possible that this situation does not escalate and spiral out of control -- Bill.

HEMMER: Kelly, stay with us one second. We're going to put up on our screen, again, it appears that the Israeli navy, again, moving off of Gaza in the Gaza Strip.

While we talk about that, Kelly, has there been any reaction? I know this meeting just ended a short while ago. But George Tenet, the CIA director, has been meeting with the Yasser Arafat. It's my understanding, through CNN's Rula Amin, that the meeting is now over and concluded in Gaza.

What are we to take away from these two men sitting down in Gaza at such a precarious moment?

WALLACE: Absolutely. Well, White House officials not really confirming exactly what is going on in with Mr. Tenet's schedule. They are saying he is in the region and that he remains fully engaged. The CIA director was heading to the region to take part a high-level meeting of U.S., Israeli and Palestinian security forces. Mr. Tenet was expected to representative the United States. Obviously, these developments have overtaken that meeting. White House, again, wanting to do everything possible to stay in touch and keep a dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli security forces. Obviously, the CIA director talking with the Palestinian leader conveying the same message we are sure that President Clinton conveyed earlier, trying to keep the coordination, do everything they can to restore calm and stop the situation from escalating -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right. Kelly, again, let the viewers know, the picture with the tank hunkered down is indeed in the West bank, in the Palestinian town of Ramallah, said to be just on the outskirts of that town. And in addition to this tank, there are several others close by, off to the left from report current picture here, and up on a hillside overlooking from a north to south direction, the town of Ramallah. Inside that city, said to be a thousand Palestinian in the streets demanding revenge, chanting in the streets there, all of this following the Israeli helicopters between the past 60 minutes have fired different locations in the town of Ramallah. A few shots hitting the police station there, Where Israeli soldiers were taken earlier today, and also a television station, which Israeli government officials said have been broadcasting constant images of the strife and the violence over the past 15 days that we have seen back here at CNN in the U.S.

We'll continue to track that. Here is Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We were just showing those pictures, those tanks on the outside of Ramallah.

Right within Ramallah, we have one of our CNN producers. Sausan Ghosheh is there. We have been talking to her by phone.

Sausan, what's the latest from where you are, inside of Ramallah?

SAUSAN GHOSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: Where I am, I am standing outside of this police headquarters that was bombed today, a few minutes ago. The top floor of that -- it's a two-story building, and the top floor completely destroyed. The bottom floor is half destroyed. I am standing here with groups of hundreds of people who walk by, chanting, some with weapons, some without weapons, very angry, calling this a humiliation.

So far, the toll count: Two places were hit. Two of them are police stations. One of them is a point of Arafat's office, but Arafat's office itself wasn't hit. The total number of casualties, according to hospital officials, is 16. Twelve of them are civilians and four are military.

KAGAN: So Sausan, the police station where you are standing, for our viewers who are just joining our coverage, explain the significance of that particular building where they bombed the top half of that building?

GHOSHEH: Earlier today, according to the Palestinian officials, a white Ford transit car carrying two Israeli undercover police agents came close to this police station. The police were suspicious of this car, and they tried to stop the car. The car wouldn't stop. So the police close by -- as I am talking to you right by, people are running. People are running, because they're seeing helicopters, and they're running with hysteria, trying to hide under something, expecting the helicopters to attack. OK, now they stopped, they're looking, they're looking, and their arms are pointed in the air.

It was just a fake alarm, but you can see how much people are angry and very scared here. They're terrified of another hit. They don't think this will be the end of it, and they are pointing with their fingers up and calling on revenge against Israel.

As to the previous question, as I was saying, there was this white Ford transit car that the Palestinian police tried to stop. They couldn't stop, they wouldn't stop, the people in the car. And the Palestinian people surrounded this car.

As I am talking now, there is a bomb. A bomb came -- I heard a voice of a bomb. I can't see where it is.

KAGAN: OK, Sausan, most importantly, as we talk to you, are you in a safe place that you can continue to talk to us, or do we need to let you go so you can seek some shelter?

GHOSHEH: I'm running as I'm talking to you, that's why I'm running out of breath at the same time.

But it seems like it's pretty safe, except people are very worried that they're going to come back and hit again. The feeling here, now, is that, once they heard the bomb, everybody saying they hit the Arafat's office -- they hit that Arafat's office -- and they're running towards Arafat's office.

KAGAN: Did you hear any explosions?

GHOSHEH: Yes, I heard one. As I was talking to you, I heard a bomb now, and this is exactly when I heard it.

KAGAN: How far away are you from Yasser Arafat's office, that people think was bombed?

GHOSHEH: Two minutes by car.

KAGAN: OK, you know, I think we're going to let you go get in a safe place and we'll check back with you so that we can make sure you are in a safe place where you can continue to report with us.

That is Sausan Ghosheh, she is in Ramallah, obviously a place that is high-tension today as the Israeli's take action to what they say is not retaliation; but this is following the death of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Daryn; we're going to continue to monitor these pictures here that we're getting in from Ramallah.

Again, these are live pictures of Israeli helicopters circling the center part of Ramallah, a Palestinian town in the West Bank. It has been a rather tenuous town for the past 15 days. Tenuous in the sense that times have reached rather precarious moments.

And, again, today we're seeing more of the same. In addition to the helicopters you see flying overhead, there are several Israeli tanks that we have seen and captured on our live cameras just outside of the town of Ramallah that are perched outside the city. Also getting reports that there have been tanks firing on the town itself in addition to the reports we got about these helicopters here, firing at different parts in Ramallah.

It is said that they have hit the police station according to our CNN crew on the ground there. In addition to that, they have taken out a Palestinian television station as well and knocked that off the air. Again, this is in the West Bank that we're watching right now.

In addition to that, in Gaza, just a short distance away to the south and west of the West Bank, in Gaza City Yasser Arafat held a meeting earlier today with CIA Director George Tenet. We are told that that meeting has broken up. But what we can see just off the coast of Gaza City in the eastern Mediterranean, are Israeli navy ships that have been patrolling the waters outside of Gaza City.

The territories, the Palestinian territories -- the West Bank and Gaza -- have been closed. Not necessarily unusual in times of strife. We have seen this many times in the past throughout different cases of violence throughout the Middle East.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Ramallah. CNN's Mike Hanna is live in Jerusalem.

We will go now to Ben Wedeman, in Ramallah, who is now reporting on CNN international.

We'll pick it up now with Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... as well as missiles coming from those helicopters.

Now, just a little while ago we also saw three bus-loads of Israeli soldiers driving up to a military installation near where I'm standing. And, basically, I just heard a report -- I just heard a report of an explosion coming from the direction of that helicopter. So it appears that the shelling, the attack may be resuming -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Thank you, there, Ben Wedeman.

We hear there that, perhaps, the attack resuming there. We will stay with these live pictures from Ramallah while we talk to CNN's Rula Amin, who is in Gaza City where there were reports earlier of several explosions there.

Rula, what is the situation in Gaza City?

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mike, I'm standing here in what Gazans call the port. It's actually a small marina. It's used for Palestinian marine force. One boat has been damaged; it belongs to the Palestinian marine force, and they say one person was slightly injured.

Other than that, there is the panic and the high state of alert. We are being asked to leave this place because people here expect that it might be attacked again. They say if the Palestinians retaliate in one way or another they are afraid that this place will be attacked again.

Again, what we are seeing here is one boat being damaged. It was actually the significance of the attack, not just the damage itself, that's leaving an impact here on the Palestinian leadership. We spoke to a couple of -- we spoke to the spokesman of Mr. Arafat and we spoke to the highest security official here, Muhammad Dahlan, who was pretty angry.

He said that the Israelis have attacked every Palestinian. That the Palestinians will not succumb to this. They will be patient, but they will not succumb.

Now, we know from Mr. Dahlan that other locations have been attacked, mostly Palestinian police headquarters and centers apart from this marina where I'm standing now. We don't know in there have been wounded in these other locations, but there is a state of emergency now in Gaza. People are on the streets, there's a lot of security people on the streets and they are taking precautions; they think this might develop into an even more dangerous situation -- Mike.

HANNA: Rula, we're looking, now, at live pictures showing Israeli gunships just off the coast of Gaza City there. Stay with us; we'll be back to you as we continue to cover these events.

An unconfirmed report that CIA Director George Tenet was holding talks with the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. They were talking about ways to end this ongoing violence. Mr. Arafat, reportedly, asked Mr. Tenet to leave the area as -- after he received that Israeli threat of attacks. This story, not confirmed at this particular point, but we do know that CIA Director George Tenet was in Gaza City at the time when these attacks, these reported explosions, started to happen.

But we go now, as well, to Ramallah where we heard Ben Wedeman saying that possibility of renewed attack underway there. Ben, joining us now.

Ben Wedeman, what is the situation now?

WEDEMAN: Yes, we heard several -- as many as four explosions. It appears that these helicopters that I think you're seeing now were firing into the city. From where we're standing it's difficult to actually say where they struck. But, clearly, this is not the end of this assault -- Mike.

HANNA: All right; Ben Wedeman, who's been following events there.

To recap the latest casualties figures that we have, are 16 Palestinians injured in the earlier Israeli rocket attack on targets within the West Bank town of Ramallah; 12 civilians and four Palestinian police officers.

We heard, too, earlier from an Israeli defense force spokesman that these attacks were in retaliation for the killing, earlier today, of two Israeli soldiers, who were beaten to death in the streets of Ramallah.

Well, let's now go back to Gaza City and CNN's Rula Amin.

Rula, first of all -- Rula, do you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the CIA Director George Tenet, who we understood to be in the region at the time of these attacks?

We don't have Rula on the line at the moment -- there she is.

AMIN: I'm still here, standing at this, what Palestinians here call the port. It's actually a small marina and, mostly, it's fishing boats that use it. There are a few boats for the Palestinian police. We can see that one boat for the Palestinian marine force has been hit, has been damaged.

Other than that, we are hearing that one person was slightly injured, but only slightly. Actually, I'm standing here next to the phone at this marina -- at the headquarters for the marines here, and the phone keeps on ringing because the families are calling to check on their sons who are -- who work here.

We know that other locations have been attacked, mainly Palestinian police headquarters and centers. We don't know if people were wounded there; and, so far, it's a state of emergency in Gaza. There's a lot of people on the street with guns and people coming to have a look at what's happening; but people expect things to escalate, so they're asking people to stay away from this place in case it is attacked again.

HANNA: Rula, I asked you a question earlier which you didn't hear. But were reports that, at the time the attacks began, the CIA Director George Tenet was in consultation with the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat -- can you confirm that that was the case, and do you know the whereabouts of Mr. Tenet at present?

AMIN: You know, Mike, just minutes before what we assumed was Mr. Tenet coming in I was talking to the Palestinian officials inside the office of Mr. Arafat, and they said they were waiting for Mr. Tenet, that he was expected to arrive at any minute. Earlier, Mr. Tenet was at the Arab checkpoint between Gaza and Israel. He was there, meeting with the Palestinian security -- head of Palestinian security Muhammad Dahlan.

And he was supposed to come to Gaza at that minute. Now, later on we saw Mr. Dahlan and he said that Mr. Tenet has changed his mind. He did not enter Gaza -- that he went back from Erez after his meetings and consultations with Mr. Dahlan. We asked him why -- how come he didn't come, and he said, well, maybe it's the Israeli attacks that didn't let him come into Gaza -- Mike. HANNA: Rula, talk earlier today of an agreement on a commission to investigate the violence; a joint Palestinian-Israeli commission with U.S. mediation, which is what we believe Mr. Tenet was due to formalize and set up in Gaza City.

Any news whatsoever from Gaza City that this commission could still operate, given the sequence of events in the past two hours?

AMIN: You know, Mike, we spoke to u.n. officials this morning, and there were Not very optimistic on the formation of this committee anytime soon. They said that the gap was still big between what the Palestinians want and what Mr. Barak accepting. Mr. Arafat, he wants an international investigation committee that would look into these latest incidents and escalations in the West Bank and Gaza between Palestinian and Israelis, that he wanted this committee to be international. He didn't want this committee to be headed by the U.S., and he said he wanted more representation from European countries. And we even heard that Mr. Arafat wanted Mr. Nelson Mandela to be on this committee.

Now, Mr. Barak, who has so far refused that this committee should be an international committee. He wants a committee that is headed by the United States, and he is not willing to accept a committee that will have the nature of investigating. He prefers an inquiry of the incidents, on how thing came to this point. He -- because an investigation committee could implicate that there would be punitive measures, and that is something Mr. Barak not willing to accept.

So according to U.N. officials we spoke to in the morning, the gap was still wide and big between the position of Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat on this committee. Taking a note that Mr. Arafat insist and very determined on having this committee. He thinks he cannot meet with Mr. Barak again or resume peace negotiations without the formation of the committee. He has asked and demanded for this committee publicly. And he thinks this is the least he can get before he goes back to negotiating table, and he's getting a lot of backing from the Arab countries -- Mike.

KAGAN: Once again, we continue to make full use of all of our resources here at CNN. We're going back and forth between us here at CNN USA and all of our correspondents working for CNN international, to give you full coverage of what is happening in the Middle East. It is, of course, a situation that with increased tensions, we have correspondents on the ground in Gaza, also in Ramallah.

And, of course at the White House, they are following all of these developments very closely. Let's bring in our Kelly Wallace, who has been at the White House all morning long with the latest from there -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Well, Daryn, President Clinton is said to be intimately engaged in these issues and working the phones. He is currently up in Chappaqua, New York at home. He and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last night. Mr. Clinton, though, was notified earlier this morning about these developments in the Middle East and has been working the phones ever since. He has spoken with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the situation, also spoken with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Also, Mr. Clinton placed call to Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to voice his concern about incident. Mr. Clinton was said to have asked the chairman questions about what happened and how it happened. Also to ask the chairman to do everything possible to try and stop the violence and restore calm in the region and to have Palestinian security forces working coordinate with Israeli security forces.

Mr. Clinton also expected to be talking with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. White House officials saying they are really going to be pulling out all the stops, doing everything they can to make sure this situation does not escalate. It is interesting, over the past couple of days, White house officials were sounding cautiously, cautiously optimistic, that perhaps there was this increase in diplomacy, and an apparent drop in violence. A senior administration official saying yesterday the situation was still fragile and volatile. Clearly, we are seeing evidence of that this morning -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Yes, and, Kelly, once again, when do we expect the president back to the White House?

WALLACE: At this point, we expect him later this morning, maybe around 11:30 or noon, back here at the White House. He is not expected to have any statement upon his arrival. He is expected to be briefed by his national security team about these events in the Middle East, and also as we've been reporting all morning long, about the explosion on the USS Cole and the death of some of those Navy sailors -- Daryn.

KAGAN: There has been a lot going on in the world today.

Kelly Wallace at the White House.

Once again, to recap the situation, that President Clinton would have called Yasser Arafat to get accounting for. Earlier today four Israeli soldiers taken captive in the town of Ramallah. Two of those were killed by a mob and two others have yet to be accounted for. That's the latest from the White House. Here's Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Daryn.

The Palestinian territories have been closed, which basically limits access and movement for people inside Gaza or inside the West Bank. We'll keep a track on that.

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